Butler students and faculty transition to online education amidst coronavirus pandemic

Butler professors and students transition to online learning with Zoom. Photo courtesy of Butler College of Communication’s Instagram page.

CALVIN PRENKERT | STAFF REPORTER | cprenker@butler.edu

Transitioning from the classroom to the chat room has been different for everyone involved.

On March 17, Butler President James Danko announced via email that in-person instruction would be canceled for the remainder of the semester. The announcement came in the wake of the World Health Organization declaring coronavirus a global pandemic. Butler, along with the majority of colleges and universities in the U.S. are closing their campuses as a combative measure to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

Gentry Horsely, a first year secondary education major, said this announcement didn’t come as a surprise. 

“After hearing that some other universities like IU and Purdue were going online I was thinking we would,” Horsley said. “I wasn’t too upset about it until they canceled school for the rest of the semester.” 

Brooke Heitman, a sophomore music education major, said the announcement came as a disappointment. 

“I was crushed when they decided to cancel for the semester because I was, and still am, very hopeful that by mid April this will all have died down so being home until August and having everything be canceled was really upsetting,” Heitman said. 

However, over the course of the week since this announcement, different problems have arisen. Some students were unable to return to campus and grab their books, others don’t have a strong enough wireless connection or lack a video camera for video conferencing sessions. Butler answered questions regarding these problems on their Coronavirus COVID-19 FAQ page

Kathryn Morris, university provost and vice president of academic affairs, said this is a challenge for everybody — “I get that.”

“I would try to remind people to suspend judgment and go into this transition, knowing that everyone is feeling a little bit of uncertainty about how this is going to work,” Morris said. “But with all confidence in members of our community, I’m very confident that our faculty are doing everything possible to deliver the highest quality educational experiences to our students.”

Butler faculty spent three days of the extended spring break prepping and planning for the implementation of online learning, with classes scheduled to resume on March 19. Zoom, a video conferencing application, will be used for many classes. 

Leah Bechtold, a first year economics major, attended a professor’s online office hours on Zoom where the professor’s dog became the center of attention.  

“A bright side is getting to virtually meet some of my professor’s pets and even some of my classmates,” Bechtold said. “A big shout out to Professor Tindall for having her dog Dandy at her virtual office hours and letting him be the co-star of our exam review. That whole Zoom call definitely lifted my spirits.”

Several students have said this transition time has been interesting, and unique problems have risen in an online setting. 

“[Zoom] is a little awkward and hard to wrap your head around, but I think in a week or two it’ll level off and the online structure will work well for what we need,” Horsley said. 

This isn’t the first time Horsley has used Zoom to conduct online learning. Horsley used Zoom during his junior year of high school when his American Sign Language teacher moved away before the start of the school year. 

“Online classes are the best option we have in my opinion, but I don’t think that you get the same discussion with classmates, or the one-on-one time with a professor,” Horsley said. “Going to a school with a small population so I can get that one-on-one with professors and then having that stripped is tough.”

While all classes must make the online transition, not all classes are conducted the same. Some classes, specifically those in the arts, are proving harder to recreate in a virtual setting due to the hands on participatory experience. 

“A lot of the challenges are things to come in the future,” Heitman said. “I haven’t had my Zoom voice lesson yet, and we have to record ourselves singing and playing piano for different exams and that’s probably the biggest stress I have.”

While Zoom may work for some arts classes, other classes have been almost entirely impossible to replicate in an online format. Yzabel Tio, a junior music education major, has dealt with this firsthand.

“For my saxophone methods class, we can no longer play as a group — we tried that and the lagging and glitching created pure cacophony,” Tio said. “My ensemble classes are not meeting right now because there’s no way to have virtual class. I’m used to playing or hearing music for multiple hours in the day but now, I barely interact with live music.”

After four days of online classes, things are still developing and changing, and kinks are still being worked out. Ryan Heumann, a junior mathematics and chemistry double major, has been working to download specific software for a class.

“The biggest challenge I have right now is with a software I need for my biochemistry lab. There’s a way to download it, but I can’t figure out how to open it,” Heumann said. “The first two days of actual class have gone fairly well. The week leading up actually starting class was stressful, but now that I’m in a rhythm, it’s not too bad.”

Just like in-person classes, professors will structure and instruct their online classes as they see fit. 

“Other than that, it’s just about realizing that every professor is going to do their own thing and taking it class by class,” Heumann said. “I feel a lot better about the transition right now. I have a lot of free time with everything being canceled and as long as I allot the time, everything is doable.”

When students are at home with their families and away from class, it can be hard to feel motivated to keep up with the rigor that is being transferred from classroom to online learning. Madeline Richey, a sophomore communications sciences and disorders major, said she is feeling unmotivated with classes online.

“I study a lot better while at school and in person so I’m going to have to find some self-discipline I didn’t know I needed for this time,” Richey said. “I’m trying to stay positive because I know this will end, but I know it’s not been fun for anyone.”

Morris said a professor emailed her on the first day of online classes, saying they did it and they could see how this was all going to work.

Morris said it was a “lovely email to receive,” adding that emails like that and others are encouraging.

“What I have heard from students is people are kind of rallying and recognizing that this isn’t what any of us wanted or asked for,” Morris said. “But the first couple of days went more well than not well.”

It will take work and patience, on behalf of both students and faculty, to achieve success in the online learning environment.

“These first two days of online classes have definitely been a significant change from the face to face meetings I’m used to, but professors are working diligently to make this transition as easy as possible for everyone,” Bechtold said.

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